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Low-Income Workers, Residential Location, and the Changing Commute in the United States

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Numerous reports suggest that rising rents in some U.S. metropolitan areas are pushing workers to live further from their workplaces over time and contributing to lengthening commutes. Drawing on data from the last three vintages of the U.S. National Household Travel Survey (2001, 2009, and 2017), we test whether the relationship between residential location and commute distance varies significantly between low-income and higher-income workers and has changed over time. The data show that commute distances have increased for both low- and higher-income workers with much of the increase occurring in lower density areas. Statistical models show a strong positive relationship between living in a low-density neighbourhood and commute distance for all workers. This relationship appears stronger for low-income than higher-income workers but the strength of the relationship has not increased over time. The findings suggest that the growth in commute distance among low-income workers is largely due to a shift in their residential location towards low-density neighbourhoods.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2019

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  • Built Environment is published quarterly in March, June, September and December. With an emphasis on crossing disciplinary boundaries and providing global perspective, each issue focuses on a single subject of contemporary interest to practitioners, academics and students working in a wide range of disciplines. Issues are guest-edited by established international experts who not only commission contributions, but also oversee the peer-reviewing process in collaboration with the Editors.

    Subject areas include: architecture; conservation; economic development; environmental planning; health; housing; regeneration; social issues; spatial planning; sustainability; urban design; and transport. All issues include reviews of recent publications.

    The journal is abstracted in Geo Abstracts, Sage Urban Studies Abstracts, and Journal of Planning Literature, and is indexed in the Avery Index to Architectural Publications.

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